"I WANT TO GO HOME!"
The following inquiry brought up a very common problem. The response is directed
at the caregiver/daughter, but everything is equally applicable to any caregiving situation, including care facilities.
Question: Mom and I spend about 3 hours/week together. She persistently wants to know where her car is and when she's going home.
Your situation is one of the most common situations faced by caregivers of
people living with Alzheimer’s:
I assume your family sold your mother’s house and car. The truth can be so devastating that it may plunge your mother into a deeper state of dementia and possibly bring on depression as well. If she asks directly about her house and car, you can tell her “loving lie”* that everything is fine, the house and car are being looked after by a trusted family member. But it's important that the whole family embraces this storyline.
You moved your mother into your house after it became clear that it was no longer safe for her to live on her own. She’s been thriving and gaining weight since she has been living with you. You’re feeling really good about her progress. She ought to be happy that you rescued you, right? You know this was a necessary move for her wellbeing, but she probably doesn’t look at it like that. To her mind she was doing just fine in her own house.
As wonderful as you are as a caregiver, it will take a while for Mom to feel that she’s “living” at your house. Terms evoke emotional reactions: Living versus visiting or staying. We visit or stay for a short period, whereas we live in our homes, surrounded by our own stuff and by our own routines.
You’ve been trying in vain to reassure her by reminding her that now she “lives” with you. In her mind, this is your home; she may be "visiting" in your house, but she “lives” in her own home. For the time being, try telling her that she’s “staying” with you rather than “living” with you and then take the opportunity to tell her how glad you are that she’s there. If she continues to talk about her own home, acknowledge her feelings, but don’t linger on the negative; instead, try talking about things that she used to do in her home: what a great gardener (decorator, cook, ironer, silver polisher or ?) she is and how you could use her help with some of those things while she’s “staying” with you? Then, use it as a lead-in to a diversion: “Don’t you think this conversation deserves a cup of tea?” or -go for a walk, - read this new magazine with me, -help me with the cookies – (or whatever fits the moment.) The point of this exchange is to help her feel included, safe, and validated.
It also may help you to think of your mom's reaction as a grieving process. Losing one’s independence is as devastating as losing a loved one. When she insists on going home, she may be thinking of her most recent home or she may be thinking of her childhood home. Your reactions should be the same, either way. I suspect that often it has little to do with an actual location, but is rather an expression of loss. Your mother has lost her independence and freedom.
The other possibility
You also help your mother readjust faster by your choice of phrasing and words.
Include her as much as possible in your conversations by using “we”, “our”, “us”, etc. . Small nuances in our speech can be very powerful.
Feel the difference in the following two statements:
“Mom is staying with me for a while. Come visit her.”
“Mom is staying with me for a while. Come visit us at our house.”